Tong Qing Hao 同庆号 has over 270 years history. Founded in Yiwu in 1736, it had its heyday during the Qing dynasty. More recently, it has been resurrected as the industry leader in premium puer gifts - the Chinese president Hu Jin Tao has gifted Tong Qing Hao to Gordon Brown, Dimitri Medvedev, and Queen Elizabeth! Interestingly enough, Medvedev got the biggest gift – two 357g cakes, compared to the Queen's 288g couplet. I have heard that the Russians are big buyers of Puer, I guess more so than the English!
Tong Qing Hao is about as commercial as Puer gets. Their small but beautiful showroom is set in a beautiful garden in the heart of Jing Hong, with little private tea tasting rooms separated by streams full of koi.
On arrival, we were assigned a female guide, who explained the company history, using a series of billboards planted along the walkway. Some of the photos were a bit exaggerated, with a large group of supervisors in white lab coats & face masks, poring over leaves.
Making state gifts is a serious business!
Still using the same logo after all these years
I love Tong Qing Hao’s iconic logo, showing a dragon chasing a horse, with a pagoda in the background. Our guide explained the dragon represents the universe, the pagoda represents mankind, and the horse represents the earth. Supposedly, the logo shows the 3 of them coexisting harmoniously, but then why is the dragon is spewing fire onto the horse?
Each bing wrapped lovingly by hand
Entering the manicured, tropical garden, we found a single storey brick building off to one side, with sharp, golden, upturned Dai gables. Behind large glass windows, we could see a steam & press production line with electric powered machine presses, and a separate packing room with 6 women in head scarves hand wrapping the finished product. Not quite big enough for commercial production, it’s a sanitized model showroom for tourists.
Manual wooden press, electric machine press in background
The observation room was strangely empty of product, but contained an interesting wooden contraption for visitors to make their own bings. This novel wooden press requires the operator to stand on one ond of a wooden lever and jump up and down like an angry chimpanzee. I guess its easier for the novice than gyrating on a stone press. It is certainly less dignified!
We decided to press a commemorative cake for fun. Pressing a 400g bing cost RMB240 for their 2010 Yiwu plantation tea (or “Tai di cha” 台地茶), approximately 5 times the cost of raw material, but it’s all about the experience!
Dedicating the neifei
Before pressing the cake, we were given pens to dedicate & sign our names on the neifei. Then came the fun part, scooping maocha into the steamer tin. To make a 400g cake you have to put 412g of maocha into the steamer. I had heard about this 3% loss of weight before, and was pleased to find out it was true.
Weighing up 412g
Steaming... about to wrap the cloth bag over one end
Tying the knot
Jumping up & down like a chimpanzee
Proud puer parents
After pressing our bing, it was taken away to be dried in the "hong gan" 烘干 room, or drying oven. We would have to wait until the next day before we could wrap it in paper.
As a maker of gift sets & commemorative bings, Tong Qing Hao is famous for its beautiful & innovative packaging. They use bamboo, wood & woven reeds to create hand crafted gifts worthy of a head of state.
Tong Qing Hao's flagship giftset
Some of the packaging was reminiscent of swiss chocolate my Dad brought back from a business trip when I was a kid.
Chocolate? Soap? Or Puer?
Although quite a few producers do this, I always get a kick out of seeing the manufacturer’s logo actually branded into the bamboo skin of each tong.
Now that's good branding!
Reed baskets for your puer bings